testing for heart disease

Know Your Risk Factors: Get Screened for Heart Disease!

Deanne Stein Health Guide December 04, 2007
  • Life is busy. It seems like we're never going to get everything done on our "to do" lists, and most of the time I don't. I just carry it over to the next day, and nowhere on my list does it say to take care of myself. In fact, many of us don't even realize that we are at risk for serious health problems, like heart disease, diabetes or stroke. It takes a major medical event, either to ourselves or to a loved one to make us finally take action. And sometimes that's not even enough. That's why some researchers suggest that it's best to be screened, especially if a relative is sick.

     

    Researchers from the University of Glasgow in Scotland pointed to a number of studies that show first-degree relatives of heart patients - siblings, children and parents - are much more likely to have heart problems as well. One of the studies was done out of Utah. It reported that more than 70 percent of heart attacks and other medical problems related to early heart disease involved just 14 percent of families in the state. One reason for the increased risk among family members is simple genetics. Another reason is the fact some family members share an unhealthy lifestyle. For instance, if one family member has poor eating habits or smokes, other members of the family are more likely to do the same things. So, researchers believe targeting relatives of heart patients to prevent further problems within the family would be effective.

     

    Doctors already know that siblings and other close family members of heart attack patients are at an increased risk for heart problems. So, one suggestion to combat this would be to identify those family members who may be at risk when patients are brought to the hospital and suggest they get screened. However, this is only being done at a handful of hospitals in the United States right now. However, people are starting to take notice once an event happens within their families, even among celebrities.

     

    Actress Darryl Hannah is very concerned about women's heart health after she experienced heart disease first-hand through her mother. Her mother contracted a virus, which weakened her heart. Luckily the doctors caught it early and she recovered, but Hannah said her mother made sure everyone in the family got checked out afterwards. Good thing because it turned out some of Hannah's sisters had heart issues. Hannah believes her low cholesterol and blood pressure are due to her healthy eating habits and getting plenty of exercise.

     

    Screenings for heart disease can include everything from blood tests and checking cholesterol levels, to chest x-rays and ultrasounds to check for blocked arteries. Screenings for stroke can involve similar techniques as well. Your doctor can listen through a stethoscope for a whooshing sound over your arteries, which would indicate a problem. Another screening includes ultrasonography where doctors send sound waves through your neck, which can reveal narrowing or clotting in your carotid arteries. Other screenings can involve ultrasounds and MRI's. However, once a problem is detected, that still isn't enough. People must make lifestyle changes to prevent heart disease and stroke. Equally important would be to follow up with their doctors after the screenings to determine your next move in the fight against heart disease.

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    Related Information:

     

    Learn more about preventing and treating heart disease, stroke and other heart conditions.

     

    Learn more about heart healthy nutrition and how you can improve your diet and heart health.

     

    Learn more about managing your weight and maintaining an active lifestyle.

     

    Take our Cardiac Quizzes to test your heart smarts!